17th August 2010
By Sanjeev Sabhlok (Published in Freedom First, August 2010)
British liberal philosophers were perhaps the first to advocate freedom of expression, none more eloquently than J.S. Mill in his 1859 essay, On Liberty. India imbibed some of these ideas during British rule. And despite the corruption rampant in the Indian press – where news can be readily purchased – we do have a broadly free press.
16th August 2010
Unfortunately I don't have much time to write more on this topic at the moment, but just a quick comment to condemn the Iranian regime's treatment of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani for alleged adultery and murder.
The issue is not whether she is innocent and should be spared. I'm not capable of passing a judgement on that. The issue is whether she received a fair trial. The issue is the barbaric threat to kill her by stoning.
All lovers of liberty and believers in humanity should vigorously condemn this barbaric behaviour of the Iranian government. Barbaric practices that were tolerated (even accepted) in the past, such as death by stoning, are simply not acceptable today.
I am NOT an opponent of capital punishment which I believe has merit in certain cases (more on that separately some other day, but there is a discussion in DOF if you are interested), but two things MUST be followed before someone's life is taken by the state:
a) Fair and free trial under a well-established rule of law that is compliant with best practice in justice.
b) Death with dignity.
Therefore, should Ashtiani be found after a fair and free trial to be a heinous murderer, then arrangements for a respectful way to take her life ought to be made.
In this case, (a) has not been met, so (b) does not apply.
ARTICLES ON THIS SUBJECT
There are many articles on this subject and if time permits I'll list a few of them here, but this one caught my attention today. It argues the Ashtiani case but also broadens the discussion to the status of women everywhere, including in India. J.S. Mill would have approved.
15th August 2010
The internet has allowed all kinds of people to get their message across. Misinformation, disinformation and dangerous ideas are passed on equally as are good ideas. That is the price we pay for liberty, for freedom of expression across the internet.
I won't name the person who sent me this message, but note that he bears an Indian name. The poisonous message reads thus:
Not a single rupee from any true Indian or India should go Porkistan. While the flood is destroying Porkistan, they still sending terrorists everyday in India and Paki Rangers firings at the Indian posts killing our guards such is their mentality. Besides, 70% of the donations will be nicked by those scoundrels anyway. We need to be strong with rogues and enemies. An enemy is a enemy only, show no mercy.
I've asked this person to unsubscribe me from his poisonous messages. Not my kind of thinking.
I agree that foreign aid often goes to fund corrupt dictators, but surely we must not become inhuman just because bad elements from Pakistan are constantly harming India. I don't know what is the best way to reach out to the millions of people affected by the worst floods in 80 years, but surely humanity requires us to help our neighbour, particularly the innocent ordinary citizens of Pakistan who are not the ones causing trouble for India.
Through this post I appeal to all Indians to reject all messages of hate and work towards the day when South Asia will be re-united, if not as a nation then at least as a customs union (I'm not in favour of monetary unions, given the experience of EU).
On this Independence day let us work towards liberty and humanity.
15th August 2010
Here's a conversation with Harsh Vora which is worth posting as a separate blog post, given it is a separate topic and raises fundamental issues in relation to liberty in India, and puts to question the capacity or knowledge of Baba Ramdev to elevate India to a major superpower. He does need to learn some basic economics. Yoga is not good enough to run a modern nation successfully.
Hmm, what do you think about banning cow-slaughter in India? Swami Ramdev has been consistently rallying against cow-slaughter in India. He explains it well, "These politicians have no limit of wickedness. They ban the slaughter of tigers (which are carnivore), and allow free killing of cow (which are herbivore, and which have been considered as mother since ages). No animal should be allowed to be killed in Bharat Varsha, for all of them have the right to live."
He emphasizes the importance of cow not merely on the religious basis, but on moral and well as scientific grounds. Moral ground: They provide us milk. Until we are a certain age old, our biological mother breast-feeds us. And after that age, our cow feeds us with milk. So, they are are second-mother, and deserve to be respected. Scientific ground: Cow manure has been used as a beneficial fertilizer in farms. Cow urine helps us cure many diseases of the body. For example, the pH value of cow urine is 8-10 so it is a sure shot medicine for indigestion. Cow urine is anti-neoplastic which helps to cure cancer. These are just a few of the many benefits. Thus, cow should be given better if not less importance.
This, I strongly believe, is a legitimate reason raised by Swamiji. I fear we might not be on the same page, so far as this matter is concerned. Note that this has to do least with "organized religion," for conscience surely dictates that ALL beings have the right to live.
My view is very simple. The cow is food in all parts of the world (except for a few Hindus and Jains in India), and Hindus ate the cow for thousands of years till the influence of the Jains made them change their mind.
Regardless of that, I don't expect the state to dictate what food a person may or may not eat. I don't expect it to create a law that you SHOULD eat beef, for instance.
The ONLY reason the state can impose its views on such matters is if you harm others in this process, or if doing so will harm the environment.
The cow is not a scarce animal. Plenty of cows exist and plenty more can be produced as needed. The tiger is a genuine scarce animal and being at the top of the ecological food chain of the jungle, the dying out of tigers can severely damage the natural environment. For instance if tigers die then all forests will be ravaged and destroyed by plant eating animals. Hence for tigers a different policy applies.
But the policy on tigers (see my article on the environment) does not ask that you don't kill tigers. It asks for tigers (indeed jungles) to be privatised and reared just like any other animal. Wherever wildlife has been privatised (Coase theorem will show you how it works), it has flourished.
There are innumerable instances of the truth of this theorem. There is, for instance, no threat of extinction of crocodiles in Australia since crocodile farms are licensed to grow them and sell their meat and skin. It is a highly profitable business. Eg. see this.
I respect yours or Baba Ramdev's right NOT to eat beef IF you so feel (on any ground, call it moral if you wish), but I REFUSE to have you impose your will through the state on this matter. That involves the TOTAL DESTRUCTION of freedom.
You will first have to prove to me that eating beef is harmful. The entire world except a few Hindus in India eats beef, and they haven't died. Note that Indians ate beef for thousands of years till the Jain influence grew strong. They didn't die. And I know of MANY MANY Indians who eat beef outside India. They aren't dying. So what's the problem? Food is supposed to nourish. What you or I or anyone else puts into our own mouths is none of the business of others.
If eating beef is not lethal and it doesn't kill others, then there is no cause to interfere in the freedoms of others to eat beef. I think Baba Ramdev is trying to impose HIS version of morality on the rest of the world. That amounts to dictatorship. Let him learn to respect others.
He is welcome not to kill cows for food. But let him please learn the basics of freedom.
1) That Indians ate beef in the past is well documented, e.g. by Gandhi, Nehru, and also in a detailed book: Jha's Myth of the Holy Cow.
2) I believe animals must be treated respectfully and have clarified in detail in Chapter 4 of DOF. That does not mean that we elevate them to a pedestal equal to us.
3) It is a huge disincentive for farmers to raising cows in India (and hence most are KILLED UPON BIRTH) because they can't sell them freely in the market, except for milk, which they hardly produce any. What the Baba Ramdev policy will do is to ensure that MORE COWS ARE KILLED AT BIRTH. Is that what he wants? And why does he want to harm the Indian farmer who may well earn a decent livelihood by selling cows for meat?
4) Do you want to see how a cow should be treated and respected? Then visit Australian farms. You'll find cows allowed to roam freely and widely over a vast expanse of grass; their needs catered to carefully; their health monitored by veterinarians (who are paid MORE than doctors). And when they are taken to abbatoirs, the regulations require a very specific and humane way of killing them for meat. Compare with the way cows are often treated in India – with the GREATEST DISRESPECT, driven from one garbage heap to another, forced to live a sad and tragic life before finally being sold in underhand ways to people who will kill them without the slightest mercy and without access to modern machines. Want to show respect for something? Then privatise it. The owner will show it respect if it becomes an economic good.
I wasn't aware that this is a hot topic in India. E.g. http://www.mynews.in/Blog/Anti_Cow_Slaughter_Legislation_B942.htmlC
Facebook discussion: https://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=2212358147&topic=12702
14th August 2010
James Randi set up a foundation in 1996 to fights charlatans, uninformed media, and as Randi says, “woo-woos” (!) including faith healers, miracle mongers, and such frauds. Randi's long-standing challenge to psychics now stands as a $1,000,000 prize administered by the Foundation. It remains unclaimed. His website says: "He is the world's most tireless investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He has pursued "psychic" spoonbenders, exposed the dirty tricks of faith healers, investigated homeopathic water "with a memory," and generally been a thorn in the sides of those who try to pull the wool over the public's eyes in the name of the supernatural."
One of the biggest problems in India is charlatans in the guise of religion. Even the educated are not exempt because our educational system is deplorable and does not inculcate the scientific attitude. Even Indian scientists are easily hoodwinked.
Long many years Chanakya's suggested that "Deceptive occult practices shall be used to frighten the enemy. It is also said that these can be used against one's own people in case of revolt in order to protect the kingdom" (Rangarajan's famous Penguin translation of Arthashastra, 1987,1992, p.504).
India has a huge industry of petty magic tricksters. Whatever else you see on Youtube, do see this. Thereafter you can marvel at the fraud being committed by some famous 'babas' and gurus.
The basic unchallenged truth is that THERE IS NO SUPERNATURAL INTERVENTION IN THE UNIVERSE. All the laws of nature were created at the moment of the big bang. That energy continues eternally, never ever diminished, only transferred from one form to another. The constants in nature inevitably lead to life and then to evolution, and then to what we are today. Note that this does not mean that spirituality is false. Just that MIRACLES, OR DISTORTIONS OF THE LAWS OF NATURE, ARE IMPOSSIBLE.
I have no evidence to deny or accept a "God" and so I am comfortable with the idea of people believing whatever they wish. Plus spirituality is a personal matter. There is nothing in nature that denies the existence of a God, should one wish to believe in it.
I'm therefore comfortable with a range of non-magical views such as Advaita and others who speak on a logical basis about spiritual belief. BUT I am not comfortable with people being taken for a ride. I detest fraud of any sort. I detest "religious" preachers who claim to have supernatural healing powers. Such fraud, I gather, is extremely prevalent in India among missionaries. Faith healing is the usual method used to perpetrate such fraud (I trust you've seen, by now, the Youtube video I cited above).
Telepathic and spiritual fraud prevention agency
Consumer laws protect us against fraud of all kinds. We need a law to protect gullible innocent people (including many science PhDs in India who have no scientific attitude!) from cheap magic tricks being projected as mystical power.
I believe that India ought to (and all societies ought to!) establish a publicly funded institute to prevent telepathic and spiritual fraud. This should be populated by scientists who license anyone who purports to have supernatural powers. All "God" men and "God" women will need a licence to ply their obnoxious and fraudulent "trade". I am 100% CERTAIN that no license will ever be issued. Such an agency would protect us against fraudulent magicians who make money from the gullible, or "convert" others to their 'religion'.
People ought to be free to complain to this agency if any supernatural claims are made during the conversion process. I think it is time to call the bluff and end the nonsense that is perpetrated by 'religions' on innocent gullible tribals in the various corners of India. Such fraud makes it difficult for "religions" to argue that they are the custodians of morality.
(I have an extensive discussion on DOF to show how religions and morality are poles apart. Have a read of it. You might be surprised.)